and how passion for Pinoy food can take you far
Although sous chef JP Cruz couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why they were included on the list, he still believes it’s a good thing. “It gives you the motivation to do more,” he says. This sentiment is echoed by pastry chef Dindi Feliciano who says that it feels good to work hard without expecting anything. Meanwhile, owner and chef Jordy Navarra feels grateful for the recognition as it’s like the industry showing appreciation and assurance that they’re doing things right.
“Passion and effort go into what we do every day,” says Panaderya Toyo’s head chef Sam Constantino. Their workplace, tucked away in the streets of Chino Roces Extension, serves as their home away from home where everyone is free to express themselves and be who they are. Although serious work is done, the environment is light and you can be as playful as you are in real life. Dance around the kitchen during prep time or maybe laugh to your heart’s content—just as long as the job gets done.
It’s this ‘Toyo culture’ of treating each other like they’re part of this big family that’s a huge reason why they are continuously making strides in the Philippine restaurant industry. There’s happiness and pride when they talk about being at Toyo Eatery, that they look forward to clocking in every single day. Yes, the hours are long but they don’t march onto their stations with heavy feet and force themselves to do their tasks.
Bartender Francis Fulgencio says that since coming to Toyo Eatery, he hasn’t felt like he has to count the hours working. He doesn’t notice the time, just like many of the staff. “When you’re happy with what you’re doing, you won’t feel the work.”
And this positivity is contagious, especially if everyone in the restaurant is on the same page with regard to their attitude towards work. There is confidence that newcomers will, in no time, be influenced just like the past and current staff have. “There is care given even to the little things,” says restaurant manager Kevin Conde.
There is also a strong team culture here in that everything is done for the sake of the restaurant, more than just for personal gain. Just like in a family, when someone is lacking in a certain area, you can expect the others to step in to help, no matter what their position is. When mistakes occur, as they do, they are addressed right away. Whoever is at fault is not bound to their shortcomings and they quickly move on once the issue has passed. On the flip side, every win is celebrated, no matter how small it looks like from the outside.
Creating and maintaining this particular culture is made possible through time and the direction from top management. For Navarra, it’s all about treating everyone the same way. “Everyone takes pride in the fact that they feel like they fit in. There’s a sense of belongingness. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, where you’ve worked or how you learned. What matters is you want to be here and you want to contribute.”
Exploring and discovering new capabilities are highly encouraged as well. The staff are not restricted on what they’re allowed to do. Each day is an opportunity to learn or try something different. The restaurant serves as their own playground where they have the freedom to experiment.
By securing a spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Filipino food is gaining more and more traction through Toyo Eatery’s iterations. "We want to contribute to the idea that us, the Philippines, we have a lot to share with the culinary world. From a skills point of view, we've always been there,” Navarra says. “It's just been this idea of getting everyone else to understand that we can push it on that stage."
As they’re promoting Filipino food outward, there is a bigger focus on using local ingredients from other regions in the country. “When we began, there were a few local ingredients used,” says Constantino. “Majority of ingredients were imported."
For instance, the tabon-tabon fruit in its raw form isn’t appealing. But its use as an antiseptic and anti-bacterial in the past has enabled the Toyo team to figure out a way to use it today: by incorporating the tabon-tabon in kinilaw or served with raw food. Another product is Sagada’s famous etag. Known for its smoky flavor, this preserved, dried, and salted pork is now being put in Bourbon whiskey.
The staff is also encouraged to bring something from their province when they go on their bi-annual breaks. “Now, we like the idea that everyone gets to contribute. Many will come back and share something from where they’re from and they try to explain what it is,” Navarra says. “Then, we all talk about it and we all come up with something.” It’s this collaborative effort that keeps them on their toes, which leads to new dishes they can bring to the customer’s table.
The culinary industry is always changing, since what’s popular in the market is never the same. Questions they constantly ask themselves, according to Navarra, are, “What do we know that we didn’t know last year? What do we understand now that we didn’t understand before? It’s about finding ways to express who we are and where we're from.” And, as the world keeps getting smaller, figuring out how they can use the platform they currently have to grow the fanbase of Filipino cuisine outside the country.
There is also a continuous drive to be more sustainable not just in the kitchen, but in sourcing their ingredients as well. Although it’s difficult for a restaurant, they have implemented steps to reduce food waste and be more eco-friendly. Many of the staff have incorporated this into their personal lives, hoping that these ‘little’ efforts can create a huge impact in the future.
A common sentiment across the board is to push on to try and get better, discover new flavors yet still have that distinct Filipino taste, and support the local food industry even more. They hope to do all these while staying true to themselves and who they are: a restaurant that introduces the Filipino culture through a modern take on the cuisine.
The marriage of Filipino food, a great working environment, and a passion for what they do is what gives Toyo Eatery that edge over the others in the industry today. And if you’re curious to see how it all ties together, then dining at the restaurant is all it takes to experience it for yourself.